Warning: contains spoilers for Harlan Coben’s The Woods on Netflix.
Though Harlan Coben thrillers generally take place in the same recognisably middle class world of Range Rovers, gated communities and marble kitchen islands, his inter-connected Myron Bolitar series excluded, they’re not set in a shared fictional universe. The plots are standalone and aside from the odd cameo, the characters don’t as a rule cross over from one story to the next. Until now.
Netflix’s two Polish Harlan Coben series – 2020’s The Woods and 2022’s Hold Tight, adapted from the 2007 and 2008 novels of the same names – both feature the character of Pawel Kopinski (Grzegorz Damiecki), the lead in The Woods. Pawel is adapted from the original US character of Paul Copeland and appears in Hold Tight as a member of the supporting cast. His teenage daughter Kaja is the girlfriend of the boy who goes missing in Hold Tight’s first episode.
Who is Pawel in The Woods?
Pawel and Kaja’s inclusion in Hold Tight continues his story and also offers a few answers to The Woods’ elliptical ending. That series revolved around the murder of two teens and the disappearance of two others – including Pawel’s sister Kamila – at a summer camp during the nineties. Its story is told over two main timelines, one in 2019 when Pawel is a successful legal prosecutor and the widowed single father to young daughter Kaja, and one in 1994, when he and Kamila are teenagers.
By the end of The Woods, Pawel has made the difficult decision to resign from his prosecutor job after his sister-in-law is caught up in a fraudulent scheme to do with the charity she runs in memory of Pawel’s wife, who died of cancer. The powerful father of a young rapist that Pawel was prosecuting had used an intermediary to entrap the sister-in-law as an attempt to blackmail Pawel into lifting the charges. Pawel, being a decent sort, prosecuted the guilty party, shouldered the blame for the financial fraud, promised to pay back the charity’s money lost to fraud, and resigned so that his workplace wouldn’t be tainted by scandalous association. He left the series jobless and alone, with a question mark over his future career.
In 1994, young Pawel had been in love with Laura Goldsztajn, the teenage daughter of the Jewish school principal who ran the summer camp where Kamila disappeared. In 2019, after the death of his wife, Pawel reunited with Laura, now a lecturer played by Agnieszka Grochowska. In 2019, Laura is married to a much older man, but she and Pawel discover that they still love each other. When Laura and Pawel return to the now-derelict summer camp in the closing moments of The Woods, he asks her if this could be their second chance, and she shakes her head, cries and walks away leaving him alone. It’s the poignant ending that Pawel predicted when he told Laura “I lose everybody I love. My mother. My sister. My wife. I’ll lose you too I guess.”
What happens to Pawel next?
Forget Pawel’s maudlin prediction because in Hold Tight, Pawel and Laura are married. (Laura’s character’s IMDb listing names her as “Laura Goldsztajn-Kopinska”, showing that she’s added his surname to hers.) They live together in a smart Warsaw home with his now-teenage daughter Kaja. The first time we see Laura and Pawel together, they’re clearly besotted with each other and very happy. He’s showering after an early morning run, and she joins him for some saucy shower business (despite the fact that their home’s open-plan living means that his daughter Kaja can walk in on them – and she does, but must either be used to it or incredibly well-adjusted as she takes it in her stride.)
In Hold Tight, Laura is a counsellor at Kaja’s school, and the two clearly get on very well with no step-mother/step-daughter resentment or friction. Laura gives Kaja lifts to school and is happy to invade her students’ privacy to help Kaja’s search for information about her missing boyfriend. Pawel’s remarriage also doesn’t appear to have harmed his relationship with Kaja in the slightest, the father and daughter remain very close to one another.
Workwise, Pawel now runs a legal advisory firm from the family home, enabling him to see plenty of Kaja and to use his legal training after being forced to quit his prosecutor role at the end of The Woods.
Do We Learn What Happened To Pawel’s Sister Kamila?
No, though Kamila does get a mention in Hold Tight. After Kaja’s boyfriend Adam goes missing, she asks her father “When Aunt Kamila disappeared, did you have a bad feeling? That something happened to her?” Pawel says that he did, but that was because two other dead bodies were discovered at the time of Kamila’s disappearance, and he tries to reassure Kaja that Adam is a different case.
Kaja’s familiarity with ‘Aunt Kamila’ could just be another sign of the honesty and closeness that characterises her relationship with her father. Though she’s 17-18 years old (technically Hold Tight takes place in the future seeing as Kaja was 11-12 in The Woods and that was set in 2019), Pawel tucks her in and tells her a bedtime fairy tale when she’s upset about Adam’s disappearance. Alternatively, Kaja’s casual reference to “Aunt Kamila” could mean that Kamila is back in Pawel and Kaja’s life, though unseen in this series. In the final moments of The Woods, Pawel visited the grounds of a nunnery where he called Kamila’s name and a woman began to turn around in answer before the credits rolled. The hint was that Kamila had successfully hidden as a nun at this convent after she and Artur – the discovery of whose body kicked off the reinvestigation – disappeared from the summer camp in 1994.
Whether that nun really was Kamila, and Pawel was actually reunited with his beloved sister remains to be confirmed, but fans of the character will be pleased to know that Hold Tight finds him in a much better place, with a new job, a flourishing daughter, and married to the love of his life.
Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight and Harlan Coben’s The Woods are both available to stream now on Netflix.